Katharine Mobley has worked on marketing, advertising, and media relations strategies for both tech startup companies – starting with RealEstate.com in 1998 – and Fortune 500 brands like Coca-Cola and Bank of America. She’s also served as a top executive for early stage tech companies including KnowledgeStorm (bought in 2007 by TechTarget) and WeCareCard.
Whether it’s getting products ready for market, building media relationships or digging for venture capital, Mobley has been there and done that. That experience has led the UGA graduate to now offer her two decades’ worth of development of Atlanta’s tech scene into mentorship roles for companies like e-commerce startup Kevy.
“I’m a 20 year veteran of marketing and advertising, so I know how to pitch. I was classically trained by a leading trainer in the world,” Mobley told Hypepotamus about seeing Kevy CEO and co-founder Brooke Beach make the case for her company’s mission during an event earlier this year at Emory University. “I was blown away by Brooke. She’s a force to be reckoned with.”
That force did indeed prove irresistible for Mobley; Kevy announced in late June that she was joining its advisory board. Now the company gets to tap into Mobley’s wide range of entrepreneurial experience, and Mobley gets to add another startup to her impressive resume.
“It took me 20 years to accept the fact that I was a woman in tech,” Mobley said. That’s because she hasn’t worked a traditional STEM-type position, something she wrote about in this column for LinkedIn (she also writes for The Huffington Post). Yet she’s grateful she made those early choices. “Staying the tech route was one of the best things I did for my career.”
What sets Atlanta startups apart in 2016?
They have to be proven models. In the 90s there was so much money being thrown around, valuations were basically pie-in-the-sky. Part of that was that the World Wide Web was new. Now you have to have customers.
There’s more diversity geographically in the startup scene than last time. Specifically markets like Kansas City, which hosted a “Tech Week” this year, and Nashville with all its healthcare companies. Even Chattanooga has a huge venture capital scene.
There’s also the power of social media. It used to be that in order to get press, there was no ecosystem for a startup to get anywhere because you just had to get to a reporter. Basically you had to get to the Wall Street Journal or Adweek or Brandweek. Now just look at Wired, ReCode, TechCrunch, and Hypepotamus that are now feeding up into that channel. Now reporters are more accessible. That six degrees of separation has shrunk down so drastically.
What’s the most exciting thing you’re seeing in this current Atlanta tech boom?
Two of the biggest industries that we have the ability to really capture are fintech and healthcare IT. Really, fintech is probably more prevalent. With all the large processor companies here in Atlanta and all the large corporations, and then the incubator hubs, we can do some really amazing innovative things. How do you make the exchange of money on smartphones happen? We need to tackle challenges like that here in Atlanta. If we will cross-collaborate and not be so siloed, we have an opportunity to stand out as the true fintech capital of the world. It’s a huge opportunity for us to really own that marketplace.
What worries you about the current rapid rate of growth in Atlanta tech?
I think it’s always from the top down. It’s control spending and control burn rate. I’ve seen so many companies get massive amounts of funding and then burn through it because they want to operate like a large organization, and you’ve got to bootstrap. The Atlanta market is not an easy market to raise money in. It’s a challenging market. That’s why people get picked up in Atlanta and move to the Bay Area, and we’re trying to combat that by being more transparent about investing in Atlanta.
The other part of it is the sustainability of the ecosystem in Midtown. That influx into the city (of millennial tech workers) is fantastic and we need to support it, but they’re going to ultimately have children and I don’t know many 32-year-olds who can afford a house in Inman Park. As the people mature they’re going to move a little bit further out of the city. We have to make sure we’re focused on the city itself from an educational standpoint for those with children.
A common complaint about Atlanta tech community is that Silicon Valley and New York are much more aggressive with marketing. What do you think?
I completely agree. I have spent a majority of my career in New York City and recently with people from the Bay Area, and we don’t have the best image. Part of that is we are too Southern, and we are a transient city. We’ve got to define our voice as being Southern, but also being a budding ecosystem and landscape for people to have multiple opinions and be somewhat of a melting pot. The Metro Atlanta Chamber and ChooseATL are the best we’ve had in this city and I think it’s absolutely great. One of the things we need most is a large exit – someone who grew a company from startup capacity in Atlanta and stayed here. We need that.